CTA Riders Air Ventra Grievances At CTA Budget Hearing

By aaroncynic in News on Nov 13, 2013 8:25PM

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Festivus arrived early for CTA riders fed up with the Ventra mess, as they were finally able to air their grievances directly to CTA President Forrest Claypool and the CTA board during what was supposed to be a standard 2014 budget hearing Tuesday night.

Rider after rider stood and spoke in front of a packed meeting room to tell members of CTA's board that the agency's budget isn’t all “good news.” While officials have referred to the $1.38 billion as such and noted it includes no fare increases or service cuts, attendees at the meeting said the board wasn’t telling the whole story.

“In the past five years we’ve had 28 routes eliminated, seven routes that parts were cut off, 62 routes have reduced hours of service,” said Kevin Peterson from the group Citizens Taking Action. “But according to Forrest (Claypool), there’s no service cuts, they’re calling them ‘service reductions.’ Guess what? Those are cuts for people who need them.”

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Charles Paidock, another member of the group, criticized the board for having its only public hearing on the budget the night before the vote. “Absolutely nothing you contribute this evening will be incorporated in the budget because it will be voted on in the morning,” said Paidock.

But most of the hearing's attendees wanted to vent about the beleaguered Ventra system. Megan Groves, who organized a small rally in the lobby prior to the meeting called on the board to end its partnership with Cubic Transportation Systems, the company responsible for the fare collection system’s implementation. “I for one will not sit idly by while my city is sold out brick by brick,” Groves told the board. “Companies should not gain profit by exploiting CTA riders or CTA workers.”

Georgette Kirkendall described a common complaint many CTA riders have had about Ventra. “Two weeks ago, I filled out a defective card form,” said Kirkendall. "I was promised repeatedly I would have a call back within 24 hours. Guess what guys? No call back, two weeks later.” She also took aim at Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Ventra is not here for our convenience. This is just another in a long list of privatization schemes Rahm Emanuel is shoving down our throats.”

Others at the hearing criticized Cubic’s ties to the military and its subsidiaries ties to national security intelligence agencies. Yesterday, the Chicago Reporter revealed the ties the company has to Abraxas Corporation, which drew ire for its work with the Trapwire system, software that collects data from security cameras nationwide and provides it to the FBI and Homeland Security.

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“Do you have any idea what Cubic can do with the information given to them through Ventra” said David Orlikoff. Dan Massoglia, a law student, called to mind the city’s parking meter fiasco in his complaints about the system, saying “When you privatize aspects of public infrastructure, you lose the ability to control them.”

Riders also mentioned Cubic's problems launching public transit fare collection systems in other cities. "I want to thank you for choosing a company with a track record of failure on not one but two continents," said Dan Massoglia. When Transport for London shifted its Oyster collection cards to Cubic in 2010, customers were overcharged by £60 million.

Additionally, the company was also mired by privacy concerns. Gapers Block reported earlier this week the London police made frequent requests for personal data from customers regarding travel times, locations and dates. Glitches, double charging, faulty card readers and customer service issues with Cubic ran systems have been reported in Atlanta, San Fransisco, Vancouver and other cities.

While the board remained mostly silent as customers aired their complaints and concerns, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson spoke up after an angry customer volleyed a few curses. Harking back to some sort of simpler time straight from of a Pepperidge Farm commercial, Peterson told the man at the podium not to use profanity "because there are women in the room." Peterson's remark drew several more uses of profanity—mostly from the women in the room.